If your dog’s eyes begin to appear opaque or cloudy, it is important to have your veterinarian evaluate them to determine if they have cataracts. Your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist, who has years of additional training and experience, for further evaluation.
What Are Cataracts?
The eye has a lens that helps it focus light on the back of the eye (retina), which is where vision occurs. If the lens becomes cloudy or opaque, that is called a cataract. Cataracts impair vision by preventing light from focusing properly on the retina, which then leads to poor vision or blindness.
Cataracts can affect dogs of all breeds and ages, although some breeds are more susceptible to getting them, including Poodles, Bichon Frises, Retrievers, Terriers, and Cocker Spaniels. Cataracts are usually inherited but can also be caused by diabetes or appear spontaneously with age. Intraocular inflammation, trauma, or exposure to certain chemicals can also lead to cataract formation.
How Are Cataracts Evaluated and Treated?
During your pet’s first appointment, we will perform a complete ophthalmic examination to determine the level of visual impairment and the likelihood of cataract progression. If cataracts occupy less than 30% of the lens or only one lens is affected, cataracts rarely cause diminished vision. However, if the opacity covers 60% or more of the total lens area, visual impairment is likely. If the opacity progresses to 100% of the lens, the dog will be blind in the affected eye.
Depending on the level of your pet’s visual impairment, our veterinary ophthalmologist will determine if surgery is recommended to remove the cataracts. Currently, there is no topical medication that can slow or reverse the progression of cataracts.
How is Cataract Surgery Performed?
Your pet will undergo general anesthesia for cataract surgery. Cataract surgery involves the removal of the cataract by phacoemulsification. This surgery method involves making a tiny incision in the front of the eye (cornea) and inserting a needle-thin probe into the lens where the cataract has formed. The surgeon then uses the probe, which transmits ultrasound waves, to emulsify (break up) the cataract and suction out the fragments. An artificial lens is then implanted to allow light to focus properly on the retina. Finally, stitches may be used to close the tiny incision in your pet’s cornea.
What Are the Potential Complications of Cataract Surgery?
As with any surgery, there are possible complications. For cataract surgery, this could include hemorrhage, infection, glaucoma, inflammation, and retinal detachment. All possible complications will be discussed with you before and after your pet’s surgery. Follow-up appointments are extremely important to help minimize risks of complications and to help your pet maintain sight.
What is the Success Rate of Cataract Surgery?
The success rate for cataract surgery is more than 90%. However, if your pet has advanced cataracts, the surgical success rate could be lower. Your pet’s individual situation will be discussed with you in detail following their initial evaluation.
What Happens if My Pet Does Not Get Cataract Surgery?
If left untreated, cataracts continue to leak proteins into the eye. These proteins cause inflammation within the eye and predispose your pet to lens luxation (discoloration of the lens inside the eye), retinal detachment, and/or glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve which leads to blindness). Although retinal detachment is not painful, lens luxation, inflammation, and glaucoma are, and your dog may need pain medication.
If your pet does not have cataract surgery, daily eye drops may be needed for your pet’s comfort. In addition, we recommend your pet receives a complete ocular examination regularly to monitor the cataract progression and maintain their optimal quality of life.